09/09/2003 11:00PM

Growing pains? Not for Cactus Ridge

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Growth spurts, tender shins, petulant behavior - training a talented 2-year-old often can feel like a roller coaster ride. And that's what has the trainer Bret Calhoun concerned.

Cactus Ridge, 3 for 3 and one of the fastest juveniles in the country, has had nothing but smooth sailing this season. His next race will come here Sept. 27 in the Arlington-Washington Futurity, and Calhoun feels that Cactus Ridge is coming up to it better than he has been yet.

"It's been a little scary how good things have gone," Calhoun said Wednesday.

Cactus Ridge breezed five furlongs here Saturday in 1:02.20, a moderate time for a very fast colt. Cactus Ridge is the best maiden winner of Arlington's meet, winning a 4 1/2-furlong maiden race here in early June before scoring by 15 lengths in the Canterbury Juvenile and 6 1/2 lengths on Aug. 17 in the Ellis Park Juvenile. At no time has Cactus Ridge been threatened.

"I don't know how he'll do when he finally does face a challenge, but man, no one's gotten close to him yet," Calhoun said.

Cactus Ridge is growing and changing, but his development hasn't gotten in his way. "He's thriving right now," Calhoun said. "He's starting to fill out, and he's getting to be a bigger, stronger horse."

Cactus Ridge will have two more works before the one-mile Futurity. The major one comes this weekend, when Cactus Ridge is scheduled for a six-furlong breeze.

Victory Light going to Woodbine

Victory Light, considered a possible Arlington-Washington Futurity starter, will instead run this weekend in the Summer Stakes at Woodbine, said his trainer, Elliott Walden.

Victory Light finished third behind Cactus Ridge and Old Kent Road in his career debut, then came back to win impressively when he was stretched out to a mile. A start this weekend in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile was considered, as was the Arlington stakes, but Victory Light will instead make his turf debut in the Summer.

To prepare for the surface switch, Victory Light worked five furlongs on turf here Wednesday, breezing in company with his stablemate With Certainty. The pair was timed in about 1:06 around the dogs.

"We'll see how he does up there, and then we'll think about his next start," Walden said.

Race for Glory possible for Futurity

One 2-year-old whose Arlington-Washington Futurity status remains up in the air is Race for Glory, the D. Wayne Lukas-trained colt who won his debut so impressively here on July 13. Race for Glory returned with a dull fourth in the Ellis Park Juvenile, a race his connections are treating as a throw-out.

"I think we'll just look past that race," said Greg Falk, Lukas's Arlington assistant. "[Jockey] Rene Douglas said he wasn't the same horse that day. It took about 10 days for him to come back to himself."

Race for Glory showed no published workouts between his maiden win and the Aug. 17 Ellis race, but Falk said he had worked two or three times. Whatever the case, Race for Glory has started training with vigor again, and posted a bullet half-mile breeze in 47.40 seconds here Sunday.

"He's back to training now the way he was before," Falk said.

Race for Glory could still run here in the Futurity, but his connections also are considering the Oct. 1 Cavonnier Stakes - restricted to California-breds - at Santa Anita.

Bien Nicole breezes on turf

Bien Nicole, runner-up in the Beverly D. the last time she raced, breezed six furlongs on turf here Wednesday and is on target for the Oct. 5 WinStar Galaxy at Keeneland. A strong showing there would land Bien Nicole in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf.

Bien Nicole worked around the dogs, which were placed far out in the course, and was timed in 1:15.40. Her work was one of only two on the grass here Wednesday.

"We're very happy with the way things have gone the last few weeks," trainer Donnie Von Hemel said. "Her work today was real good. We'll go to Keeneland a few days in advance, but basically she'll be up at Arlington until that race."

Twelve entered in Pucker Up

A field of 12 was entered Wednesday in Saturday's $175,000 Pucker Up, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies, and the race has come up strong. Besides Sue's Good News, winner of four of five races, the Pucker Up brings out Achnasheen, With Certainty, Sarie Marais, and Cat's Cat, all promising grass fillies. Keeping the Gold, second to Sue's Good News in the Singapore Plate Stakes last month, is slated to make her grass debut, and two Europeans - Hoh Buzzard and Plume Rouge - also are entered.

Jockey colony reshuffling

Rene Douglas continues to dominate the Arlington standings, and Eddie Razo continues to have the best Arlington meet of his career. But beyond those two, the Chicago jockey colony is in flux.

Gone is the promising apprentice rider Timothy Thornton, who has moved his tack to Turfway Park. The apprentice Cruz Contreras, who has won three more races here than Thornton, has returned to Mexico to sort out legal issues concerning his living and working in the United States. He is expected back for the Hawthorne meet.

Thornton's departure left the longtime Chicago jockey agent Penny Ffitch-Heyes without a rider, but only temporarily. She quickly picked up Jesse Campbell, whom Ffitch-Heyes had represented years ago when he was an apprentice.

The status of Ffitch-Heyes's main rider this summer, Marlon St. Julien, remains up in the air. St. Julien hasn't ridden here in more than two weeks, and no one is certain when - and where - he will resurface.